Earlier this month, the third SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) vaccine was authorized to prevent and decrease the serious health impact and death associated with this devastating disease. For those of us who have been waiting for our turn to get a vaccine, this comes as welcome news.
The speed that these vaccines have been developed and the urgency of approval can lead to concerns about their true safety or effectiveness. It is important for people to educate themselves about these vaccines and to separate myth and statements intended to scare you, from facts and science.
It is critical to look at the source of information about the vaccines and evaluate their role in keeping us all safe and healthy. Johns Hopkins Hospital and The Mayo Clinic are two of the world’s leading research facilities that set the standards for healthcare. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is the nation’s health protection agency. Their respective agencies have done a great job putting the myths and facts of COVID-19 vaccines into perspective.
Myth: The COVID-19 vaccine is not safe because it was developed quickly, and testing was not complete.
Fact: Never in history has there been a worldwide effort to dedicate resources (money) and effort to develop a drug or vaccine. This was clearly a response to the speed at which this disease spread and the number of lives that were being lost. Many pharmaceutical companies, with long histories of vaccine development, as well as new companies using new technology stepped up to bring these vaccines to market in record time.
Although the technology is new to the market, it is not new from a research standpoint. Technology like messenger RNA (mRNA) and viral vectors have been in development for decades and the COVID-19 virus vaccines were the first application of this technology. It is also important to know that steps in the evaluation of the research and manufacturing process were not skipped. The safety and effectiveness were tested in tens of thousands of people before the vaccines went through the review process by the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The approval process took place at an accelerated pace by eliminating lost time normally associated with approvals. It is interesting to note the CDC approved the use of the newest vaccine during a meeting held on a Sunday.
Myth: If I’ve already had COVID-19 then I don’t need to get the vaccine.
Fact: It is known that people can get COVID-19 multiple times. So, having the virus previously does not guarantee protection from future exposure of the virus. There is not enough information to know how long people are protected after having COVID-19. What the vaccine clinical trials have proven is that the vaccines prevent the disease in a large majority of people and deaths are dramatically reduced. What is still being studied is how long the protection will last. Many other vaccines require multiple doses to provide long-term protection. Will the COVID-19 vaccine require additional doses? Data is still being collected.
Myth: COVID-19 vaccines cause infertility or miscarriage.
Fact: There is absolutely no evidence that the COVID-19 vaccine affects fertility or the ability to maintain a pregnancy. This myth arose from social media saying the virus protein that is targeted by the vaccines is the same as a protein involved in the growth and function of the placenta during pregnancy. The fact is there is no similarity in these two proteins and no biologic evidence that the vaccine would target the pregnancy protein. During the Pfizer vaccine trials, 23 women volunteers involved in the study became pregnant, and only one suffered a pregnancy loss. This woman did not receive the actual vaccine but was in the placebo group.
Myth: Getting the COVID-19 vaccine can give you COVID-19.
Fact: The COVID-19 vaccine does not contain any COVID-19 virus particles that can replicate and cause disease. It is biologically impossible for the vaccine to give you COVID-19. The vaccine teaches your immune system how to recognize the COVID-19 virus so that your body can respond to future exposures to COVID-19 and prevent you from getting sick.
Myth: I have been vaccinated so I do not need to wear a mask.
Fact: Even though you have received the vaccine, it takes two weeks following the last dose to be fully protected. Also, the vaccine protects YOU from contracting COVID-19, but it may not prevent you from carrying the virus and spreading it to others. Many people are not currently vaccinated and are still at risk. Remember no vaccine is 100 percent effective so you need to continue to wear a mask to protect yourself, and it is just as important to protect others.
Myth: The COVID-19 vaccine will alter my DNA.
Fact: This is a myth related to the way the first two vaccines stimulate the immune system by using messenger RNA (mRNA). mRNA vaccines work by instructing a person’s body to temporarily make a protein found on the surface of the virus. Injecting the mRNA into your body will NOT interact or do anything to the DNA located inside your cells. Human cells break down and eliminate the mRNA soon after it has delivered the instructions on how to make the key COVID-19 protein.
Myth: The COVID-19 vaccine has severe side effects.
Fact: Like other vaccines, the COVID-19 vaccine can cause local injection site soreness lasting a few days. Early vaccine trials caused short-term mild or moderate vaccine reactions like low-grade fevers and chills, body aches and pains, and fatigue in as many as 50% of people. Keep in mind that these symptoms are an indication your immune system is reacting to the vaccine.
The most serious reaction is a condition called anaphylaxis, or difficulty in breathing caused by the vaccine. As with other vaccines, this is a very rare reaction that occurs in 2-5 cases per million vaccinated with the COVID-19 vaccine and usually within 30 minutes. All vaccination providers have medications available to effectively and immediately treat patients experiencing anaphylaxis. The CDC has not identified any deaths that have been directly attributed to COVID-19 vaccine administration.
These are the most common myths that have surrounded the COVID-19 vaccines found floating around the Internet and social media. As of the end of February, almost 52 million Americans have received at least one dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. The vaccines have been proven to be safe and effective. As you collect information about the current and future vaccines, consider the source of information. Does the information come from a reliable source? Does it come from a source that is there to protect your health? Is the information objective? Is the information supported by other reputable sources? And finally, does it sound believable to you? Separating vaccination myths from facts will help you make an informed decision that will help protect you and your loved ones from serious consequences of COVID-19.